A Former Congressman, Once a Staunch Foe of Gay Rights, Confronts His Own Homosexuality

updated 09/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Former Congressman Robert E. Bauman was one of the brightest stars of the Republican Party's right wing before his sudden fall from grace three years ago. One month before the 1980 elections, it was revealed that Bauman, despite a reputation for being anti-gay, had been charged with soliciting sex from a teenage boy in a capital gay bar.

The news shocked official Washington. Bauman, a three-term representative from the conservative eastern shore of Maryland and a founder of the Young Americans for Freedom and the American Conservative Union, had carved a niche in government as a right-wing bellwether on issues ranging from abortion to the Panama Canal. He was a co-sponsor of such legislation as the Family Protection Act, one provision of which would have allowed job discrimination against gays. Among his peers, Bauman was known for his mastery of parliamentary procedures and his acerbic wit.

Bauman at first attributed his "homosexual tendencies" to alcoholism, and the charges against him were dropped when he agreed to go for counseling. Nevertheless, four weeks later, he narrowly lost his bid for reelection.

Since then he has practiced law in Easton, where he was raised as the adopted son of a musician father and his wife, a dancer. In August 1982 his 21-year marriage to the former Carol Dawson, now a staff assistant to the Secretary of Energy, was annulled, at Mrs. Bauman's request, by the Catholic Church. The Baumans have four children, aged 21 to 11.

Bauman spent most of the past year in self-imposed obscurity. That ended last month, when he agreed to address a seminar at the annual American Bar Association convention on behalf of gay rights. For the first time Bauman publicly acknowledged his homosexuality. The speech came two weeks after Gerry Studds, Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, was censured by the House of Representatives for a 1973 homosexual affair with a Congressional page. Bauman recently spoke with PEOPLE'S Mark Frankel about his life and troubles.

I can't really recall the first time I went into a gay bar, or what I felt. I was usually drinking. The incidents that led to the 1980 charges actually occurred sometime in the winter of 1979, but nothing was done about it until September of 1980.1 think the timing was political. Eight weeks before the election was the first I even knew there was an investigation. Reporters told me they knew about it in midsummer.

There are people who mask their problems by creating a crisis, attempting suicide or whatever, as a way of refusing to face the real crisis that they're undergoing. I could no longer cope with the internal feelings, my marriage, my public service, and continue to function. So I turned to alcohol. When I was drinking, I did not think I was leading a double life. Alcohol was an escape. It's hard to say when it started, but I was having a problem by 1978, my third term in the House.

All my life I've struggled with feeling different. Those feelings probably became a lot stronger during and after my marriage, but there were certainly indications when I was in high school, and maybe even before. It wasn't that I was not attracted to girls, because I did date. There was just something wrong, but I didn't know what it was. My wife forced me to address the problem in January 1980. I went to a clinical psychologist, who finally convinced me, after three months, that I was an alcoholic and suggested, in fact, that I was gay. I broke off with him later because I didn't want to hear that.

The closeted gay always lives on the edge of discovery. It's always in the back of your mind, whether you're a shoe clerk, a bank president or a Congressman. Obviously there was something in me that wanted to be discovered. The incident that led to my political downfall was a cry for help.

In the fall of 1980 the story of my problems broke in the national press. I still was denying being gay then, although I admitted to having homosexual tendencies. My wife and I decided that I should stay in the race. It was too late to replace me as a candidate and, even with the liability of the exposure, I still had the best chance of winning. It was a physical and mental ordeal for both of us to go through the rest of the campaign. I'm not sure how we did it.

With a few exceptions, most of my political allies stuck by me. The National Republican Congressional Committee gave me the maximum amount of money they could. Ultimately, I got 48.3 percent of the vote. The consensus was that had another week or two gone by I would have been reelected.

I decided to run for my old seat in the 1982 election. I was still struggling with the gay issue in my own mind and thought I could vindicate myself. I neither admitted nor denied I was gay, but I did say I had my problems under control. Our poll showed that if I were an outsider running against the incumbent, I would win. But one night my pollster, Arthur Finkelstein, took me aside and said, "Don't run. You don't know what you're going to go through." For the next two hours he told me. But I didn't believe him.

As the primary campaign developed, my opponent dumped everything he could on me. He said I was a sick person. Worst of all, he was spreading rumors, which weren't true, about my current conduct. It dawned on me that I was not going to be able to be myself if I continued, so in July I dropped out of the race.

You would expect a Congressman to come out of the House and earn $100,000 or more in a Washington law firm. That has not been my fate. I understand the risks of being gay in this country better than most people. I'm not bitter, but it's a waste of talent. And no one's going to blackmail me.

I have no interest in returning to elective office, but even if I did, there probably would be no place for me. That's unfortunate, because I now have a better understanding of the human factor. Politicians like to deal with abstractions, to think in terms of programs to get welfare chiselers off the rolls. But when you bring that down to the mother with four kids in a shack somewhere, that's harder to deal with. My views haven't changed fundamentally. I'm still a conservative. I just think that the human equation is something to consider, having been forced to consider it in my own life.

People have accused me of political hypocrisy. I did vote twice for the McDonald Amendment. The second version denied legal services to otherwise qualified gays simply because they were gay, and I was definitely wrong to have voted for it. I never really focused on the gay aspect of the Family Protection Act, and I can't honestly say I would not have co-sponsored it if I had. But the bill had active discrimination against gays written into it and that was wrong.

Even so, the charge of hypocrisy doesn't wash. At the time I didn't consider myself gay. I knew the tendencies were there, but I was doing my best to deny them, which did not manifest itself in public castigation of homosexuals. My career was not noted for "fag bashing," as the Baltimore Evening Sun said. The hypocrisy was self-applied.

In early 1982 my wife decided to file for a divorce. She later asked the Church for an annulment. They ruled that I was a homosexual and therefore didn't have the capacity to contract a marriage. It was probably a great service. I had just about become convinced that I was gay and there was no cure. Now I'm quite sure of both. If the Church says I'm gay, I guess I ought to accept the fact. I converted to Catholicism when I was 13. My understanding was that to be a homosexual was a sin, and that was one of the reasons I didn't want to accept it. I eventually learned that the Church position is that homosexuality is a human condition. Acting upon it is a sin. I still consider myself a Catholic. I refuse to believe that the Lord created people with an inherent condition that denies them the right to love other human beings. The God of my understanding is a more forgiving God.

Some people have just quietly eased themselves out of my life. Some not so quietly, especially since I addressed the ABA. That was my coming-out speech, but it wasn't specifically planned that way. I was asked to speak on gay rights—by gay activist and ABA member Dan Bradley—and the coming out just evolved. I don't think anyone was too surprised, but some weren't pleased. The most recent issue of Human Events, a conservative magazine published in Washington, is very cruel, attacking me personally. They have "experts" claiming homosexuality is curable, that it's a conscious choice, that it is not in the interests of society to grant civil rights to gays. It hurts to see your old friends turn on you.

My children have been very supportive throughout all this. I'm still their father, and they still call when they need me for advice.

The decision to come out publicly was a hard one. I mean to set an example only in the sense that I want to encourage people who are gay to face it and deal with it and be whole. I'm not kidding when I say I feel better today than I've ever felt in my life.

It's imperative that gays organize themselves politically. If gay civil rights are ever to pass, the movement is going to have to have Republican and Conservative support. That's where I intend to do my missionary work.

I don't like being back in the public eye, and once I get through this initial phase of doing what has to be done, I don't want to continue. I'd rather settle down and be with people I respect and feel affection for and read books and listen to music and earn a living. People kept telling me back in 1980 that out of adversity comes good, and I would think, "You don't know what the hell you're talking about." But they were right. I wouldn't advise this, however, for the average coming-out of a gay. There has been a lot of grief and guilt.

I wouldn't wish being gay on my children. But I would hope that I would have the understanding to accept them as they are. A few years ago I couldn't have done that. I can now, so I think I've got to be a better human being today than I used to be. I wouldn't want to characterize the Bob Bauman of three years ago. I lived with him so long, and I didn't know him at all. He's gone, and he's resting in peace.

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